Saturday, December 12, 2009

Accidental Hero No. 3 - Banana George

The Accidental Hero column is dedicated to snowboarders who brought something to snowboarding but for whatever reason did not become a household name. This week we take a look at Banana George, a man who didn't quite make it to snowboarding superstardom because he was a bit of a late starter. 

George “Banana George” Blair, who is about to celebrate his 95th birthday, was born on the 2nd January1915. He is best known as a water-skier (he’s in the American Water Ski Hall of Fame) which he took up at the age of 40, after being encouraged to take up the sport as a sort of physiotherapy to recover from a spinal-fusion operation.
Sports Illustrated interviewed Banana back in 1992 
His back condition was aggravated by a fall from a moving freight train. He was a college kid on spring break in 1934, riding the rails with a couple of hoboes. The hoboes wanted his can of beans, but he wouldn't let go. They scuffled. Hoboes and beans stayed in the boxcar. Blair got heaved into a ditch. "I hit the ground back first," he says. "I was in such mortal agony that no amount of morphine could quell it."
The pain stayed with Blair for years. By his late 30's it had nearly immobilized him. He had to crawl out of bed every morning on hands and knees, then clutch his night table to stand up.
Finally, in 1955 at age 40, he submitted to spinal-fusion surgery. His doctor urged him to go to Florida to recuperate. In Fort Lauderdale, strapped in a steel brace from his hips to his armpits, he would sit in his wheelchair and watch ski school students whiz past. One day an instructor challenged him to sign up.
Physiotherapy advice has moved on a bit since then and so has Banana George. By the age of 46 he had started barefoot water-skiing, at 65 he started competing, by 70 he was on to wakeboarding and he first took up snowboarding at the ripe old age of 75. Yeah, then it was on to; race car driving aged 81, barefoot water skiing while being towed by an airplane 81, sky diving 82, surfing 83 and bull riding at 85. He seems to be getting more extreme the older he gets. I expect next year he will take up volcano bungee or shark tickling. 
These gloves are made from the pelt of a grizzly bear he killed with his teeth.
During that time he has also continued to seriously damage himself. He has broken eight ribs and his left ankle and in 1987 at the age of 72 he broke his back while water skiing, "I was flying through the air like Mercury when I thought, Oh, my god, I bumped the ramp!" he said. Then he thought, "Oh, my god, I'm upside down!" And then, "Oh, my god, I can't move!"
And a little more from the Sports Illustrated article:
Doctors told him he would be out of action for at least a year, perhaps permanently. But less than three months later he was barefooting for the cameras of the Spectacular World of Guinness Records TV show, for being the only human to have water-skied—with or without skis—on or off all seven continents. He notched number 7 six years ago by barefooting in the 28 waters of Whalers Bay, Antarctica. Blair produces a photocopy of the captain's log, on yellow paper, no less: "Today, we met our first iceberg, saw our first humpback whale...and Mr. George Blair performed his barefoot waterskiing along the beach."
Here is a snapshot that shows him barefooting down the Volga River in Russia, where the local citizenry called him Mr. Banana. And there he is on the Amazon, the Nile and Bombay's Back Bay, a fetid body of water that, he says, stank like a septic tank. After bombing around the bay a few times, he let go of the towline and barefooted back to shore. A large crowd converged on him. "Everybody wanted to touch me," he recalls. "It was as if they had seen Christ walking on water."
He may not be Jesus but he does have a better theme tune.

Bananas are his calling cards. "There's nothing more perfect than a banana," he says, perfectly serious. Chiquita ships him about two tons a year free of charge, and he dispenses them to anyone with an open hand. "They're my favorite fruit." he says, "my favorite color." When he speaks on the telephone, he prefers to use his banana-shaped desk model. (He invariably signs off with the line "Ski you later!")
Banana George rocks a prototype Lib Tech Skate Banana?
Incidentally Chiquita boast on their website that they were the official sponsor and supplier of bananas to the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid in 1980. I wonder who got the awesome banana sponsorship opportunity for Vancouver in 2010? 
So let’s have a look at him snowboarding. 
Steamboat resort is a big fan, 10 years ago they made him Steamboat's Snowboard Ambassador.
Banana George hangs out in Steamboat with Lobster-hands Bob
And this must be Orange Tony
He makes an appearance in the snowboarding movie ‘Snow Blind’:

And it wasn’t the only movie Banana starred in. He also starred in the hit DVD ‘Captiva Island’ with Airworlf’s Ernest Borgnine. 
It must be awesome because it is described by an IMDB viewer as: Captiva Island is a non-stop thrill ride with Die Hardian action and Pulp Fictiony dialogue. If there's one movie you folks need to see this lifetime, Captiva Island is it. This one is a 10.

He is a multiple World Record Holder but over the last few years Banana George has been struggling to keep up his active lifestyle. Here’s his last attempt at record breaking covered by Growing Bolder in 2008. 

Barely Able to Walk, 93-year-old Banana George Attempts Water Skiing Record
It was a rough winter for Banana George Blair, the most famous water skier in history. The oldest-ever barefoot skier ever battled a severe case of pneumonia that left him bedridden and weak. But the 93-year-old wasn't ready to give up the sport he loved. "All of life is up and down, he said. "I don't wait for the next thing. I make the next thing happen."
Barely able to walk, and in nearly constant pain from six back surgeries and a broken neck, George leaned on his friends for help to the boat, for another record-breaking attempt. His good friend Lane Bowers agreed to drive the boat, "I've had every one of his doctors and family members call me and tell me this is not a good idea but this is what he lives to do so I'm just trying to help him do what he wants to do most," Bryant said. "I'm gonna keep him as safe as I can and we're gonna take him out there."
What happened next is a testimony to the human spirit and the power of belief.
With only enough strength for one attempt, George got his bare feet on the water to become the oldest person in history to attempt to barefoot water ski.
Sadly I don’t think he made it and unfortunately it looks like since then Banana George has had to give up extreme sport.
The Moral of This Story: There are just two types of old men in the world and you have to choose which you’ll be one day. One option is to turn into the typical miserable old geezer that most people end up as, and the other option is to become the crazy-happy one. Banana George took the second option and that’s what I’m going to be aiming for when I turn 95.
Related Articles:
Try the other Accidental Heroes for size

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